Amherst College places men’s lacrosse on probation, fires coach for racist incident

  • Amherst College coach Jon Thompson, right, watches from the sidelines during a men’s lacrosse game against Bowdoin on March 9, 2019. Due to a racially charged incident early this month, the team was put on probation for the 2021 season and coach Jon Thompson was fired. CHRIS WRIGHT/CLARUS STUDIOS INC./AMHERST COLLEGE

  • The Amherst College men’s lacrosse team celebrates during a 16-13 win over Wesleyan in the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Pratt Field. Due to a racially charged incident early this month, the team was put on probation for the 2021 season and coach Jon Thompson was fired. COURTESY GEOFFREY BOLTE/CLARUS STUDIOS INC./AMHERST COLLEGE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2020 3:49:19 PM

AMHERST — Amherst College has placed its nationally ranked men’s lacrosse program on probation for the 2021 spring season and fired head coach Jon Thompson following a racially charged incident earlier this month.

The incident that sparked the punishment was first reported by the Amherst Student on March 11. According to its report, members of the men’s lacrosse team chanted the n-word at a black lacrosse player, who then punched one of his teammates who was using the term.

In a letter to the Amherst College community signed by President Biddy Martin, Catherine Epstein, provost and dean of the faculty, and athletic director Don Faulstick, the school pointed out that the incident was just the latest in a pattern of troubling behavior surrounding the program.

The school is making itself ineligible for the 2021 postseason under the probation and has banned formal team gatherings until Nov. 1, which includes any player-run practices or other team-bonding activities. In addition, every member of the team will be required to complete an educational course selected by Epstein with input from the chief diversity and inclusion officer and Faulstick.

Amherst fired Thompson, who was in the midst of his 10th season in charge of the Mammoths. Thompson led the Mammoths to its first national championship game last season, and the team was ranked No. 7 in the country this year before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson finishes his Amherst career with a 125-47 record with seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

“Participation in athletics at Amherst is a privilege, not a right,” the letter said. “Amherst athletes are required to follow the behavioral standards set by the athletic department and the College honor code as well. We realize that not every student on the men’s lacrosse team has actively participated in the violations that have come to light. However, as with any group or organization on our campus, teammates are accountable to each other and, as a team, also to the larger community. In short, we cannot ignore the harmful culture that exists on the men’s lacrosse team, and its damage to our community.”

The letter described several other incidents that led to a decision of this nature.

One of those incidents was team members exchanging messages in a popular texting app, GroupMe, that were “denigrating and ridiculing” transgender and gender-nonconforming staff members. The letter also noted that members of the program were responsible in the past for vandalism in dorms and putting an undue burden on campus custodial services.

The letter also said the team was uncooperative in the investigation and no one took ownership for chanting the n-word, nor did anyone reveal who was responsible for the chant. It stated that a culture that both repeatedly violates standards of decency and also protects those responsible for those violations has no place at Amherst College.

“Amherst athletics is among the oldest and most prestigious athletic programs in the country,” the letter concluded. “Our athletes can and must reflect the best of Amherst, holding themselves to the high standards we expect of our community in all its endeavors. We stand ready to help guide and support the work of transforming the men’s lacrosse program and to continue the work of ensuring that all our students have full access to the intellectual, social, and co-curricular opportunities Amherst offers.”

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